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Sunday, 17 August 2014 22:00

Greenville Chamber partners with The Right Place for biz attraction, retention services

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The Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce signed a three-year agreement with Grand Rapids-based The Right Place Inc. to provide economic development services for the city. As part of the deal, The Right Place will do retention calls on area businesses, as well as help market facilities such as the Greenville Industrial Park to expanding companies. The Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce signed a three-year agreement with Grand Rapids-based The Right Place Inc. to provide economic development services for the city. As part of the deal, The Right Place will do retention calls on area businesses, as well as help market facilities such as the Greenville Industrial Park to expanding companies. COURTESY PHOTO

Even with the state’s improving economic climate, many small communities often lack the resources and connections needed to seize opportunities for business retention and job growth.

For communities such as Greenville, located about 35 miles northeast of Grand Rapids in Montcalm County, that’s where regional economic development firms like The Right Place Inc. come in. The organization recently signed a three-year partnership with the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce for economic development services.

The partnership that kicked off July 1 should benefit the city of Greenville, which has a history of bringing in outside organizations to aid it in business retention and attraction projects, said Candy Kerschen, executive director of the Greenville Chamber. However, regular programming and outside resources often slipped through the cracks without a dedicated economic development presence — something that Kerschen hopes will change with the partnership with The Right Place.

“Economic development is what they do 24/7,” Kerschen said about The Right Place. “They have a huge array of development relationships across the state and a great reputation all over the country, so they bring to us relationships and resources that we weren’t even aware of.”

The partnership was funded through a combination of public and private dollars from various business entities and institutions, Kerschen said. The partnership has reached 90 percent of the funding it needs for the three-year partnership.

As the relationship between The Right Place and the Greenville community grows, it could lead to an expanded partnership with Montcalm County in the future, sources said.

The Right Place sees the first year of the partnership with Greenville as foundational to the economic development effort, and it plans to complete 12 retention visits with Greenville companies by the end of the year. Those efforts will focus primarily on manufacturing and agribusiness operations, said Therese Thill, vice president of business development at The Right Place.

The visits typically entail one-on-one meetings on-site with the companies about the challenges and business opportunities they’re facing.

“Then we like to bring to bear any state or federal resources that may be of assistance to them,” Thill said.

Beyond retention visits, The Right Place often connects organizations to state and federal grants for expansion projects, incentive programs and workforce training dollars, Thill said. The group also helps organizations solve issues with municipalities or consolidations if necessary.

Eric Icard, business development manager at The Right Place, will head up the Greenville partnership and work in the community two days per week.

Like many small communities, Greenville’s economic well-being depends largely on the health of its manufacturing sector, Icard said. After the Swedish company Electrolux closed its Greenville production facility in 2006 and when United Solar Ovonic filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, many workers found themselves commuting far from the city for work, Icard told MiBiz.

Icard plans to visit all of the area’s manufacturers in the hopes of growing as many jobs as possible in the community and bringing jobs back to the city, he said.

With a sizeable agribusiness sector — including livestock, potatoes and other produce — there have been calls from the community to attract a large food processor to the area, Icard said. Greenville once hosted an Ore-Ida Potato Products LLC plant that closed in 1986 after a consolidation.

A local food processing plant would help mitigate shipping costs for local agribusinesses in Montcalm County, said Kerschen of the chamber.

“It makes perfect sense with the amount of potatoes grown in Montcalm County that there should be a potato processing manufacturer,” Kerschen said. “Those kinds of connections make sense for us, and there is a void.”

However, rural areas often lack the infrastructure and appropriate municipal and county staff to cultivate and support larger business attraction projects, Thill said, noting more growth will likely come from expansion projects involving existing companies.

Despite Greenville’s run of bad luck with major plant closures and its limited resources, the city has overcome these obstacles by encouraging strong philanthropic investment and aggressive leadership, Icard said.

The city has several large vacant buildings — notably the former United Solar Ovonic plants — along with available development sites at the Greenville Industrial Park. Many of the sites also have an established infrastructure, which can be attractive for companies looking to expand in a timely manner, sources said.

The regional partnership model is a familiar economic development structure for The Right Place.

The agency initiated a similar partnership with the Ionia County Economic Alliance (ICEA) in 2012. Over the course of the deal with Ionia County, the partners have assisted several companies with expansion projects, including Belding Tank Technologies Inc., Cargill Kitchen Solutions Inc. and Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch Inc. The partnership also helped bring approximately $69,000 in funds for technical and skilled-trades training to four companies in Ionia County last year.

The Right Place has also maintained a multi-year partnership with the Newaygo County Economic Development Organization (NCEDO) where it provides assistance with larger projects but does not have a dedicated staff member for the community.

The success of the partnerships has begun to pique the interest of other areas as the practice of economic development moves toward a more regional approach, rather than a community-based model, said Tim Mroz, vice president of marketing and communications for The Right Place. Regionalizing the delivery of economic development services was a key push of governmental reform early on in Gov. Rick Snyder’s current term in office.

The shifting delivery models illustrate a trend that’s being seen across the country as states like Indiana and Ohio move toward a regional focus, Mroz said. Despite individual regions presenting their own unique issues, when it comes to economic development, the larger challenge is patience, he said.

“In Ionia, there was a lot of activity that first year but not a whole lot of results. The second year was an exponential leap and into our third year now there is another leap,” Mroz said. “It takes time to get that off the ground, and you need patience from the local community.”

While some communities are reluctant to change their economic development strategies, Greenville has constantly looked for new ways to grow, Icard said.

“Some communities don’t see the need to change and because of that, they decline,” Icard said. “Greenville is the opposite and is setting its own course.”

Read 38801 times Last modified on Saturday, 16 August 2014 23:13

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